While conversations regarding identity might occur within fragmented groups at Lehigh, students with different perspectives do not always come together in the same room for discussion.
Sydney O’Tapi, ’18, said this need for a space that encourages the voicing of important issues surrounding identity inspired the creation of “At the Intersection: An Intersectional Identities Conference.”
O’Tapi, who serves on the Panhellenic Council as vice president of campus relations, was the student coordinator for the second annual “At the Intersection” event this year, which united the Lehigh community to learn, discuss and understand the complexities behind intersecting identities.
“The purpose primarily was to create an understanding and to create spaces for conversations to happen on campus amongst all of the community that kind of tackle a lot of different aspects of our identities that inform how we go through life and our experiences,” she said.
The event took place on April 16 in the UC, beginning with a dinner and keynote speaker and followed by a breakout session with smaller workshops to facilitate interactive discussions.
The planning committee outlined the discussion topics and assigned facilitators to each workshop based on their knowledge and expertise. Though each discussion connected to the overall theme of intersectional identities, there was a diverse range of sessions to choose from. Among these were workshops about gender norms and hookup culture, destigmatizing mental health and masculinity.
Sarah Stanlick, the director of the Center for Community Engagement, was the keynote speaker at the event. She said some of the inspiration behind her speech derived from the global citizenship class she’s teaching, which reflects on the program’s winter break trip to Peru. The class explores topics such as identity, belonging and community, and Stanlick said these topics fit the theme of the keynote.
Stanlick discussed identity and belongingon Lehigh’s campus, while touching upon the recent racial incident in Warren Square A and the conversations and changes that are continuing to be made as a community.
“I think Lehigh has a lot of growth that it could be doing around identity development and how we embrace a more diverse and inclusive campus,” she said, “and I think having discussions like these and also modeling the space to say we can have difficult discussions is really important.”
She also praised the ability for groups to come together and hold discussions and hoped that attendees would leave with an appreciation for going outside their comfort zones.
“When you’re having discussions and talking about identity and sharing things, you also feel close with the people that you’re working with,” Stanlick said, “so you have a new appreciation for the communities that get built because you talked together.”
Aisha Abdulkarimu, ’20, attended one of the breakout sessions titled “Your Privilege is Showing: Understanding, Recognizing and Navigating it,” which was facilitated by Carter Gilbert, the assistant director of student engagement.
“When I was looking at the list, I was looking for something that pertained towards me, and knew it was a much-needed conversation that I needed to have with people outside my friend group,” Abdulkarimu said.
The session consisted of an open conversation about the different definitions and interpretations of privilege, and incorporated an interactive activity prompting students to recognizing differences in privilege.
Abdulkarimu, a sister of Mu Sigma Upsilon sorority, said the event inspired her to want to bridge the connection between various organizations on campus, start new friendships outside her comfort zone and ultimately build a better Lehigh community.
“That was our goal,” O’Tapi said, “to make sure that everyone takes away something valuable, learns and can have an action plan to go forward and continue to make changes and make our campus better.”